H.S. Profile | JM's Christensen setting a swifter pace

John Marshall's Emma Christensen has won three of the last four cross country meets that she's been entered.

Running has always been something that Emma Christensen has done for the fun of it. But this year she began working at it, too, and now it's a challenge for those who are trying to keep up with her.

The John Marshall sophomore has set a swift pace so far in this high school cross country season, winning her fourth invitational race on Tuesday at the Minneopa Golf Course in Mankato.

"I'm pretty surprised, but then again, I'm feeling like my hard work has paid off," said Christensen, who is in her third season running for the JM cross country team.

It's not so surprising that Christensen is winning races, since she was one of JM's top runners a year ago and routinely finished highly. What's eye-opening is the improvement in her times, according to Rockets coach Pam Davick.

"Emma is finishing 30 to 40 seconds better than a year ago in the same races," Davick explained, listing one example after another.


Last Saturday at Winona, Christensen won the 12-team Jim Flim Invitational in 15:14.6, conquering the hilly, challenging course behind St. Marys University 10 seconds ahead of Winona's Caitlyn Domeyer, and a full 29 seconds faster than a year ago when she finished second here.

Christensen won Tuesday at Mankato in 15:09.5, with 22 seconds to spare over Janessa Mueleners of Belle Plaine, and now she has beaten every individual competitor in the Big Nine Conference at least once.

Davick, JM's cross country coach since 1990, doesn't take much credit for Christensen's surge to the front of the pack. Christensen devoted her summer to becoming a better runner, and she literally hit the course running when the new season began.

"Once the track season ended (in June), that following Monday I just started to ease back into it, doing my own thing," she explained.

For the first time, Christensen approached running like a student, researching training and running techniques online and fashioning her own workout and diet routine. She attended the three-day Carrie Tollefson Training Camp at St. Catherine's University in St. Paul.

And she ran, and ran, and ran.

"I had run during the summer before, but this time I kept track of my miles and the pace that I did each time," she explained. She ran six days a week, and 30 to 35 miles each week.

Work in progress


Christensen is enjoying her success, but she still knows what it feels like to run in the chase position. She finished ninth at the high-powered Mayo Invitational two weeks ago at Eastwood Golf Course, a massive meet with runners from more than two dozen schools.

"There were a lot of people there and it was great competition with big schools like Wayzata and Stillwater," she said. "I placed ninth but that doesn't really matter because it was the first meet where I broke 15 minutes (14:58), so I was just pretty happy with the time."

The unassuming Christensen would never suggest it, since she hasn't even qualified for her first state meet yet, but her strong times and her coach indicate she has the potential to keep pace with the best high school runners to come out of Rochester.

Davick said Christensen's times and talent are remindful of former JM runner Josie Johnson who won back-to-back Class AA state titles as an 8th- and 9th-grader in 1996 and '97. Johnson broke the 15-minute mark a half-dozen times in each season, so Christensen is not there yet.

Rochester's only other state champion in girls cross country was Lourdes' Monica Schliep in Class A in 1981, when it was a 3,200-meter race.

"I'd like to get to state; that's the goal, I guess. But it all depends on who the other teams are bringing," Christensen said with a shrug. "I just hope to keep getting better; that's all I can control."

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